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Broadcast of O Holy Night on RTÉ radio not offensive to non-Christians, BAI rules

The broadcasting watchdog received a complaint about the hymn being played on The Ronan Collins Show.

Image: Niall Carson

A COMPLAINT ABOUT the playing of Christmas hymn O Holy Night on RTÉ Radio One has been rejected by Ireland’s broadcasting watchdog.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) today published its latest rake of decisions on complaints, one of which claimed the broadcast of the hymn on The Ronan Collins Show on 8 December 2021 stigmatised non-Christians.

A summary of the complaint said:

The complainant notes lyrics in the hymn referring to people as pining in sin and error. The complainant states that accusations of sin and of error are stigmas, grievous insults and egregious religious taunts that disparage persons and groups in society on the basis of religion.

“The complainant states that repeated playing of this hymn damages the complainant’s good standing in society and condones discrimination against non-Christians.”

“The complainant is of the view that the hymn’s lyrics which refer to a ‘dear saviour’ having brought a ‘new and glorious morn’ to some people stigmatises non-Christians.”

“The complainant states that the lyric ‘fall on your knees’ is disrespectful of human dignity because it is a posture of humiliation and to order someone to their knees is an abuse of power.”

The summary concluded: “The complainant believes that the broadcaster, by repeatedly playing this hymn, is actively condoning and sponsoring the lies, false promises, stigmatisation and abuse of power contained in the lyrics.”

In its response, RTÉ Radio said it “does not accept that the broadcasting of ‘O Holy Night’ constitutes stigmatisation of
non-Christians, or that it is harmful or unduly offensive.”

It said the hymn “is well embedded in popular culture”, as evidenced by the “many artists from diverse genres who have recorded a version of it.

“The broadcaster notes that it is mindful of its responsibility to serve the interests and concerns of a diverse audience and that Christianity is a predominant part of Irish culture.

“The broadcaster notes that, in serving a diverse audience, there may be times when some content gives offence, but that offence is subjective and can vary from person to person.”

The BAI’s Executive Complaints Forum rejected the complaint on the grounds that it disagreed with the complainant’s claim that the hymn was offensive to non-Christians, and the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

“The Forum acknowledged the complainant found some of the lyrics insulting and offensive for non-Christians but found no basis to believe that the broadcast of this hymn would cause harm.”

“The Forum was of the opinion that the broadcast of this hymn was in keeping with a programme of this nature and with audience expectations of the programme, particularly during the Christmas period. Considering the broadcast as a whole and in context, the Forum concluded the broadcast did not cause undue offence.”

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